The Cast of Characters

ROSS JOHNSON. A native of Canada, the RJR Nabisco president, 56, has always risen to the top. In 1985, as head of Nabisco Brands, he advocated the merger between that company and RJR Reynolds. Just three years later, as head of RJR, Johnson apparently changed his mind. In October he and a group of top managers offered shareholders $17.6 billion to take the company private, a price they later increased to $22.7 billion.

HENRY KRAVIS. With his reputation as the No. 1 leveraged-buyout specialist on the line, he was not about to let RJR Nabisco go private unless he consummated the...

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